Atlanta’s e-scooter frenzy has the potential to play a crucial role in fostering last-mile connectivity for years, but it’s become abundantly clear that city leaders don’t have the two-wheel zeitgeist figured out yet.
The first e-scooters, Birds, landed in Atlanta just seven months ago, but a multitude of problems have already popped up.
And while legislation is in limbo—the Atlanta City Council is currently on winter break—the e-scooter population has only grown, with rideshare giants Uber and Lyft launching new dockless vehicle-share programs in just the past two weeks.
This puts Atlanta at a pivotal point: Will the city become overrun by two-wheeled hellions, or can local leaders curb e-scooter-related problems before an outright ban—like the one San Francisco officials temporarily implemented—is needed?
Unless Atlanta councilmembers can quickly concoct proper policies to regulate e-scooter operations, the vehicles “risk being an urban scourge,” says Chris Wyczalkowski, a postdoctoral researcher at Georgia State University’s Urban Studies Institute.
In Atlanta and many major cities like it, “the automobile is king,” Wyczalkowski says, and city planners have traditionally designed transportation infrastructure that encourages driving and discourages walking and biking. And that’s why e-scooters have taken so many cities by storm.
“Scooters are the new player, essentially filling a space between biking and walking, which the Segway identified in the early 2000s, but could not capture,” Wyczalkowski says.
But with e-scooters whirring down sidewalks, up the Beltline, through parks, and, sometimes, on the interstate, it’s no surprise that the trend has come with an element of danger.
Hospitals in Atlanta and other scooter-dotted cities have seen a drastic uptick in e-scooter-related injuries.
“Clearly sidewalks are not a good fit with scooters for at least two reasons,” Wyczalkowksi says. “Pedestrian collisions are the obvious one; the other being bumps that the small wheels of a scooter cannot handle.” (It doesn’t help that Atlanta has chronically cracked sidewalks.)
Unfortunately, sharing automobile lanes isn’t a great alternative.
“A more holistic policy would establish bus-, bike-, and scooter-only lanes, in conjunction with a reduction in parking in urban areas, driving demand for last mile connectivity from public transit,” says Wyczalkowski.
Part of the legislation drafted by Atlanta councilmembers calls for scooter riders to be barred from riding or parking on sidewalks, but Wyczalkowski says imposing speed limits could make walkways scooter-safe—at least until more multi-use lanes are created.
Additionally, in November, Midtown leaders suggested introducing dedicated scooter corrals to reduce the amount of two-wheelers strewn across public walkways.
Exactly how to regulate e-scooters as they become increasingly ubiquitous is subject to some debate, but cities “cannot take an agnostic position on this,” says Wyczalkowski.
Perhaps, he posits, city leaders could pilot legislation in student-heavy areas, such as downtown near GSU, Midtown in the Georgia Tech area, or around Emory University.
One thing’s for sure: Once the Atlanta City Council reconvenes in January, there’s no time for dragging feet.